In 1997, when I arrived at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University to study history, the Bharatiya Janata Party was on the rise. The party had formed a 13-day government in 1996 and was widely anticipated to be on the cusp of power.
On campus, however, it was Marxism that dominated discussions. A number of left organisations had student branches in the university; among them were the Students’ Federation of India, the All India Students’ Federation, the All India Students’ Association and even the extreme left Democratic Students’ Union. These bodies would organise activities to take stands on a variety of issues from those specific to campus (demands for more student hostels), to the national (the 1997 killing of Dalits by the Ranveer Sena in Bihar), to the global (foreign policies of the United States). They held torchlight processions, pasted walls with leaflets and posters, and often rent the night air with shouted slogans.
But while communists of various hues held sway, the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad—the RSS’s student affiliate—was a tough challenger. The ABVP was ensured a steady stream of 800-odd votes every year in the student body elections, usually enough to win it one of the four major positions.